The Leader of Government Business in the Upper House of Parliament, Senator Simon Stiell has been accused of trying to evade questions posed by members on the Opposition side in what has been described as a “recurring issue that ought not to happen.”
Opposition Senator Matthew Joseph made the accusation during last week Tuesday’s sitting of the Upper House of Parliament after Sen. Stiell requested that Sen. Dr. Tessa St. Cyr, be instructed to “reissue” questions that were not properly answered when posed during a recent sitting of the Upper House.
Sen. Joseph expressed displeasure with the response given by the Leader of Government’s Business to one of Dr. St. Cry’s questions, which requested for “a list of service providers” but a figure was provided as the answer.
“There is a difference between an answer and a response, and what we got this morning, and even in the last session was a response. When a question is asked, I think it is the responsibility of this side within a reasonable time, to do the research, and make the necessary contacts to get the answer not a response, and I think we could do a little better than that,” Sen. Joseph contended.
“I got the impression, and I really hope I am wrong that the Leader of Government Business was literally ducking, avoiding, and trying to escape what was asked. Questions need to be answered because the public (are) listening and they expect better of us,” said the Opposition Senator.
Like Sen. Joseph, Sen. St Cyr raised concerns over what she described as the “nonchalant” approach by the government side regarding the issue of answering questions and that it has now become a “recurring issue that ought not to happen.”
She had to remind the President of the Upper House, Chester Humphrey, that he “had instructed the Leader of Government’s Business to provide that answer” and in acknowledging “Standing Order 21 (2) which provides for the government business to have precedence,” the female Opposition Senator reminded the Upper House that “there would be no government without the people.”
“The questions are coming from the people,” she argued, explaining that as senators they represent their constituencies, voicing concern that when “questions are raised in this Honourable House it is dealt with in a nonchalant manner.”
Sen. Stiell defended the government side on the issue stating that “questions are answered as thoroughly as possible,” and “based (on) technical guidance given within the ministries.”
He suggested that Dr. St. Cyr resubmit her questions “if she required further clarification on detailed written answers that were provided in a previous sitting or partial clarification…so that we don’t get into this back and forth.”
However, Senate President Humphrey turned down the request explaining that while Sen Stiell’s argument “can have a universal application that no one can argue with, in the instant case…the request was in plain and simple language, for a list of providers.”
Noting that the government side has since offered “a number” as the answer to Sen. Dr. St. Cyr’s question, President Humphrey said, “I don’t know how the issue of lack of clarity arises there. Certainly, if your response is that there are 26 suppliers then the answer was not to that question (but) if the question was, could you say the number of suppliers then a response of 24, 26, 110, 1000 would be appropriate.”
Additionally, he cited the need for “the Office of the Clerk of Parliament to be engaged with some more precision” to address this issue as the “question time, is a very serious part of parliamentary activity.”
“What has failed here is the administrative arm of Parliament not connecting up the dots to make sure that there is a degree of efficiency, and lively engagement…” he acknowledged, emphasizing the need for “an efficient mechanism,” which reminds the leader of government business of matters that are pending from the last sitting.
It can’t be that we come here every time, and no questions are answered, part is not answered, this one isn’t relevant, you provide an answer which is not relevant to the question, as in the instant case in which we are talking about…” said the Senate President who urged his parliamentary colleagues to “try to avoid what appears to be an unprofessional approach in conducting the business of Parliament.”